This summer has included both a Green Lantern movie and, for now, the end of the space age. So it seems like a good time to discuss that time West Virginia hero and sound-barrier-breaker Chuck Yeager met Green Lantern.
I just came across the (pretend) historic meeting myself in the pages of “New Frontier,” a DC Comics miniseries published in 2004. It takes place from just after World War II to just after the Korean War, when America and the world were changing, when the space age was getting off the ground and when costumed heroes were getting their start.
The first issue has a scene at Edwards Air Force Base in 1948, including a drawing of the Bell X-1A. That’s the airplane that Yeager flew to break the sound barrier in October, 1947.
A young Hal Jordan, later to become the Green Lantern, is sneaking around the base and into the Happy Bottom Riding Club, more formally known as the Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch, a restaurant and hotel on the site of the air base. In this case, Hal calls it the Fly-Inn.
A tradition started there when Yeager broke the sound barrier. Owner Pancho Barnes gave him a free steak dinner. After that, pilots were given a free steak dinner when they broke the barrier for their first time. After Yeager’s achievement, Pancho sometimes gave this dinner to multiple pilots in a week because the sound barrier was broken so often in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In the comic, young Hal is peaking in the door. Pancho says, “Well, now, looky here! I told you these pilots are getting younger every gol-dang day!”
Hal responds, “Oh, I’m not a pilot ma’am… At least, I-I mean, not yet anyways. I know it’s late, and I’m kinda young to be here and all… but I came to see Mr. Yeager and I read in life magazine that he comes to the ‘Fly Inn’ after work. Are you Miss Barnes?”
She responds, “Call me Pancho sweetie, everybody does” and then goes on to say, “Now I’ll ignore the fact that it’s a school night… if you tell me what a half-pint like yourself wants with a grumpy old peckerwood like Chuck Yeager.”
So, as you might expect, that’s colorful language that Chuck Yeager might appreciate.
Anyhow, young Hal goes on to explain, “Gosh, Miss Pancho, he’s the GREATEST pilot that ever lived, and, I figure to be a pilot myself and, well jeez, I guess it’s like he’s…”
Hal doesn’t fully get the phrase “my hero” out of his mouth when, in the next panel, he turns around to a heroic figure towering above him.
Also worth noting: in this panel, Yeager has a full head of wavy brown hair.
He compliments the future Green Lantern on a bomber jacket he’s wearing: “That’s a fine jacket you have there, young captain. You mind telling me where you got it?”
Hal says shyly, “It — it belonged to my dad.”
In “New Frontier,” as in the Green Lantern movie this summer, Hal’s father, Martin Jordan, was a pilot whose plane exploded on the runway. Hal has witnessed his father’s death, and it forever shapes him.
Yeager says, “I remember your daddy.”
And Hal proudly offers, “He flew with you over Europe. Mom says that he shot down SIX Nazi planes. She says that his nickname was ‘The Flying Martini’ on accounta’ his name was Martin.”
Yeager agrees. “He was a damn fine pilot, son. You… your mom… you can be mighty proud of him.”
The scene ends nicely with Hal reaching into his backpack, pulling out a model airplane and asking Yeager to autograph it: “Just make it out to Hal — Hal Jordan.”
I found the meeting pretty exciting because I am a fan of Green Lantern in the comics and Chuck Yeager in real life. Hal Jordan’s character is always depicted as being a test pilot and is sometimes said to have been based on Chuck Yeager, and he apparently still is.
Before the movie came out, actor Ryan Reynolds described his Green Lantern character as “an amalgamation between Chuck Yeager and Han Solo, the classic hero. Throw a punch, make a joke, kiss a girl.”
I found Green Lantern to be a fairly entertaining movie. I didn’t hate it the way some people did.
But I did find Ryan Reynolds’ version of Hal Jordan to be not self-assured enough — not Chuck Yeager enough.
I guess maybe I found him to be not West Virginia enough.
Hal Jordan’s from California, see. Make Hal Jordan from Hamlin, and the world’s probably an even better place.